July 2021


Sudden mushrooms

It’s been a rainier-than-usual July, with last week’s aftermath of tropical storm Elsa bringing torrential rain followed by gray drizzle and gloomy humidity. Although Roxy hates rain, we walk regardless of weather, which means this past week has been filled with the smell of wet dog.

Wet dog is a smell I’ve only recently discovered, as I’ve been anosmic from allergies for most of my adult life. But one of the ironic wonders of this pandemic year is that while many folks lost their sense of smell due to COVID, I have partially regained mine after months of masking, avoiding sick students, and religiously taking my allergy and asthma meds.

Living with only four senses is a strange and alienating experience. When others describe a particular scent triggering a specific memory, like Proust’s madeleine moment, I stare dumbly, having no such experience. When others remark on the scent of a flowering shrub, baking bread, or distinctive perfume, I politely smile and nod without being able to sense what they’re talking about.

Even on those rare occasions in the past when my sinuses were clear, my sense of smell was unpredictable. Sniffing a bouquet of roses, for instance, I might smell the water in their vase instead; opening a box of cereal, I might be overwhelmed by the smell of cardboard more than the food inside. And then there are times when a particular smell has gotten stuck in my nose, supplanting all over aromas, like the time I discovered I didn’t actually like the lavender-scented shampoo I’d used for years, and then I smelled it on everything for days.

But this year, after the pandemic literally cleared my head, I have smelled the waft of blooming lilacs, the aroma of takeout pizza, and the odors of litter boxes, dog poop, and road-killed skunk. Even the stinky smells of dirty laundry and my own sweat are welcome novelties: a reminder that being able to smell is a superpower that able-bodied folks take for granted until they lose it.

Feel free to use lawn

Last night I dreamed I was assigned to teach first-year writing in a large, shady cemetery. As I walked the grounds on the first day of class, I wondered how I was supposed to teach outside without the usual infrastructure of a normal classroom. I also fretted because my syllabus wasn’t ready for a class that was abruptly starting in July rather than September.

Eventually I found a flat, coffin-sized tombstone I figured I could stand on while shouting to my students, whom I assumed would be far-flung throughout the cemetery grounds. Right at class time, however, I realized none of my students had showed up, so after several more minutes of wandering, I found my class packed into a small, squarish chapel, where some students were standing and others were sitting on an assortment of rickety wooden chairs they had pushed against the chapel’s stone walls, with everyone’s backpacks and other belongings piled in a messy heap at the center of the room.

After introducing myself and explaining that I’d post the syllabus before our next class meeting, I sent my students outside to complete a small-group icebreaker while I took inventory of our makeshift classroom. There were not enough chairs, no desks, no podium or table for me, no projector for my laptop, no electrical outlets for my students’ laptops, and not even a chalk or whiteboard to write upon.

But since my first-years had never been to college before, they were unfazed by the weirdness, even as I explained that today’s class was in July and our next class wouldn’t meet until September.

Bejeweled

Today has been a soft day: drizzly with temperatures in the 50s, a welcome respite from this week’s heat wave. I’ve had the windows open and the fan on all day to keep the air inside from stagnating, and the mist has been light enough I didn’t need an umbrella to walk the dog, just a ballcap and raincoat.

Soft days are good for reading, journaling, and letter-writing, which is exactly what I did today. After you come in from a drizzly dog walk, you’re content to settle in with a book, notebook, and cup of tea. Sunny days are perfect for extroverts who need to Go Places and Do Things, but soft days are perfect for introverts who don’t mind staying home with a stack of books and a pile of letters to write.